September 15, 2023

Moms urge federal regulators to mandate side underride guards


It’s been 10 years since Marianne Karth — along with daughters AnnaLeah and Mary and son Caleb — were traveling to a family wedding in Texas when a tractor-trailer failed to stop amid slowing traffic on Interstate 20 in Georgia and slammed into the rear of the sedan she was driving.

The impact caused Karth’s car to spin and slide partially under a tractor-trailer. Karth and Caleb, who were in the front seat, survived. However, AnnaLeah, who was 17, died instantly, and her sister Mary, who was 13, died a few days later. Both were in the back seat of the family’s Ford Crown Victoria.

On impact, Karth said the trailer’s rear guard, a steel bar designed to prevent vehicles from sliding under a trailer in a crash, completely broke off.

Turning grief into advocacy in DC

On Thursday, Karth, along with another mother, Lois Durso, who lost her 26-year-old daughter Roya Sadigh in a side underride crash in 2004, were walking from the U.S. Capitol to the Department of Transportation, ringing a handbell for all the unnamed underride victims since the DOT was established in 1966.

After arriving at DOT headquarters, Karth said she and other families of underride victims will ring a heavier bronze bell as they read the names of nearly 750 victims from a binder Karth has collected over the past three years.

“I set alerts every day that involve truck crashes, then I research and find the ones that look like it probably involves an underride, either from the photos or from the description,” Karth said. “Then I write a post in memory of those people and include their names and ages, the date of the crash, their state and look up obituaries so I can include a photo of them.”

After three years, Karth said her binder is about 6 inches thick but that it will keep expanding if federal regulators don’t mandate adding side guards on trailers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation published its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in April which didn’t propose that side underride guards be mandated on trailers.

According to NHTSA’s analysis, which has received pushback from the National Transportation Safety Board and insurance groups, the Biden administration is severely understating the benefits and overestimating the costs of the mandate. In the analysis, NHTSA estimates a side underride guard requirement would save about 17 lives and prevent nearly 69 serious injuries a year at an annual cost of up to $1.2 billion.

Karth claims that cost-benefit analysis is flawed, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent nonprofit whose members include major auto insurers, estimates that side underride guards could save far more lives than the number cited in NHTSA’s analysis.

“[IIHS] believes NHTSA’s analysis suffers from several fundamental flaws that reduce its benefit estimates for side underride guards,” wrote IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow. “Specifically, we estimate the number of lives that could be saved by a side underride guard standard is up to ten times the number reported by NHTSA,” John Gallagher reported in a FreightWaves article.

Currently, no regulation requires trailers to be outfitted with side underride guards, which could prevent vehicles from sliding between the axles and under the trailers.

In comments filed with NHTSA about the ANPRM, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group representing small-business truckers, said it opposes “any proposed mandate to require underride guards on trucks.”

“We have many concerns which are outlined in our filed comments, among them including the limits of testing that has been conducted as well as trucks getting high centered on railroad tracks,” OOIDA spokesperson Norita Taylor wrote in a statement to FreightWaves.

The American Trucking Associations also largely opposed efforts to mandate side underride guards, stating in its comments about the ANPRM that it “believes that efforts to decrease and eliminate side underride crashes should be focused on preventing the crash in the first place.” 

A mother of nine, Karth, who lives in North Carolina, said AnnaLeah would be 28 and Mary would be 24 if they had lived.

“I was robbed and they were robbed of their future,” Karth said. “It’s so hard to believe that they could still be with us if there had been more protection. We always say it’s not the crash that kills, it’s the underride in many situations and while underride protection doesn’t stop a crash, it makes it more survivable.”


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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